In my Semester 2 opening article, I began by acknowledging the complexities and challenges of the context in which we embarked upon the term. Many may recall the volatilities that within 24 hours of writing the article our world would change from a loosening of restrictions to a “snap” lockdown; and so, it began…

As frustrating as this may be, it indeed was to be our reality. With a mere 14 days on campus this term, our lives once again became digital.

Where once almost a whole term online would have seemed unthinkable and entirely daunting, the transition occurred with an uncanny sense of ease and familiarity.

I preface this article with a clear acknowledgement that the circumstances of this lockdown have proved to be exceptionally challenging for many in our community; local businesses hitting the wall, the emotional impacts of extended periods of isolation from loved ones and the strain upon many households of the day to day balancing act of supporting children whilst working from home. The acknowledgement from the government that Covid 0 was no longer a possibility was a particularly dis-heartening prospect.

In 2019, I was privileged to speak at a conference convened by Holly Ransom; many of you will be familiar with her work and perhaps, like me, inspired by not only her impressive list of achievements but also her approach to change and complexity. Holly is the Founder and CEO of Emergent and an expert in disruption and future leadership. Having worked with Richard Branson and Barack Obama, to name a few, she has some interesting frames of reference upon which to draw.

Reading her recent work, The Leading Edge, I was struck by a memory that she drew upon and a story which she attributes to her leadership approach. In a childhood game of poker with her grandmother, she was struck by her grandmother’s ability to sustain a winning streak; despite holding a pair of queens in her own hand, Holly’s grandmother had taken the game with a pair of twos! Her response to an indignant and incredulous Holly; “Any hand you are dealt, can be a winner kid; it all depends on how you play it.

The hand we have been dealt in 2021 has certainly not bestowed upon us a pair of queens and certainly not a royal flush, the reality bears more similarity to the paltry pair of twos; however, I do believe that just like the grandmother in the story, at TKS we have made the choice to play our hand and we have absolutely chosen to win. At times we have had to brave it with a poker-face, and this has not always been easy; we have not folded, nor walked away from the table – although at times we felt like doing so. We have played our hand together.

Earlier this term, I met virtually with a Year 9L Mentor group who were preparing for their Year 9 Leadership journey planning the Year 9 camp. I (along with Janelle Mathius) was invited to join them to discuss the concept of leadership and in particular, leadership through complex times. We discussed many aspects of leadership, framed by some excellent questions from the students. One question asked us to focus on the attributes of a good leader. As you will be aware, there are many frameworks of leadership and a million books that claim to have the answer – it is a highly lucrative industry! As we discussed however, it became clear that the answer was right in front of us; it was embedded within our school values!

As I reflect on the term that was, what is abundantly clear is our decision to reframe the hand that we were dealt was never really a choice; in reality, it is a fundamental purpose to the TKS community, for it is woven through our essential DNA.

Our staff and students firmly believe in the achievement of all and understand that despite the changing circumstances, achieving our personal best is at the heart of all that we do. Our phenomenal staff have worked tirelessly to ensure that the model of learning was modified effectively over time to ensure high quality learning experiences were delivered to allow our students to continue to achieve their goals. The distance was undoubtably an obstacle at times and required unprecedented levels of innovation and ingenuity, not to mention a rapid uplift in our tech skills.

The experience of the last 18 months has highlighted the need for an enhanced focus on wellbeing; care and empathy have framed our approach to the Home Campus model and the inclusion of Wellbeing Wednesday and the outstanding range of activities on offer has allowed our community to engage in cohort, small group and individual activities, allowing connection and a sense of togetherness whilst apart. The role of the Mentor has taken on even greater significance and has allowed our students to establish points of connection and support at times of need.

I think it is fair to say that we have needed our fair share of resilience across the entire community! For some time now, the programs at TKS have recognized the significance of resilience and as such, have had a focus (explicitly and implicitly) from ELC through to Year 12. The agility demonstrated by staff, students, and our wider community as we moved to Home Campus learning, was testament to the outcomes of such programs and reinforced the need for such ongoing within our everyday lives.

Last, but not least the level of Respect that we have had to show for each other’s time and individual context and the Responsibility to manage self and space. Away from the day-to-day routines, the face-to-face rituals and logistics the loss of routine can be discombobulating for all. Greater flexibility and the need for more independence, usually hallmarks of an adult life; our students have risen to the challenge. Although perhaps coming a little easier to some, our students have really thrived within this environment.

Our values were chosen by our community, lived out by each of us as individuals, shared by us as a collective purpose and as a framework for our community, they are a “story of self, a story of us and a story of now” * Through time, communities will face what Ganz refers to as “choice points” it is here when your values come to the fore. The experience of Covid has indeed reminded us of our need to take ownership of our own narrative; to return to our common values and to use these as our guiding principles. Indeed, they have been put to the test and at times, felt the pressure! However, as I reflect upon the progress we have continued to make this term, the achievements we have witnessed and the strength of community which prevails; I return to the game of poker.

It is true, we were dealt a difficult hand, one that was always going to be tricky to play; yet, at a pivotal moment in our history, we remained true to our values, pulled together, and were guided by our common goals and secured the game with a pair of twos.

Writing this piece on a rainy Sunday afternoon, I am interrupted by a Teams conference call from Mr Hilton and Ms Henderson; a call on a Sunday afternoon is rarely good news for a Principal… As I answer with a sense of trepidation, I am met with excitable screams from the TKS TOM team; that afternoon in the TOM State Finals, TKS Primary team had taken 1st place – heading through to the Australasian finals, with the Secondary Team taking State Honours. A magnificent achievement for all involved. The teams have worked tirelessly through on campus restrictions (under which cohorts were not permitted to mix or meet) and then later, entirely online. Collaborating with peers in such challenges is demanding at the best of times, throw in some remote learning for good measure and I can assure you, it takes an enormous level of commitment, creativity, and resilience to get through. The win speaks for itself; a perfect example of our staff and students collaborating, taking the hand which they were dealt and achieving outstanding results. A huge congratulations, on behalf of the TKS community, to all involved – students, staff, and parents!

In a communication last week, I made mention of a forum held by Alan Tudge that I was due to attend. Principals from across the Aston electorate were in attendance and had the opportunity to bring to the table concerns, issues, and thoughts for a possible return to campus. Although, at times, it was very difficult to hear the impact of the pandemic on a generation of young people and the wider community, it was also uplifting to hear the desire for educators and their students to return to a form of face to face learning. We were given the opportunity to put forward a range of ideas and strategies to enable a covid safe return; the innovation and the possibilities were endless and driven by mutual consensus. The Federal Minister acknowledged the great work of educators, students and parents/carers in the community and listened with great interest to the range of views. I am very hopeful that what was shared will be recognized within future planning and Federal strategy.

As I look ahead towards Term 4, I know that the game is far from over and that the next hand that we are dealt may be equally as difficult to win the game; however, I am equally as confident with the framework that we have in place, the strength of our community and our faith in our shared narrative – our common values, we will be sure to succeed.

I thank you for your ongoing support of our community through this difficult time, wish you a relaxing break and look forward to connecting with you in Term 4 – hopefully back on campus.